“Everything Everywhere All at Once”, 2022, directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — 4/5 stars
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” has exploded into theaters. As of this week, the sophomore outing from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known collectively as just “Daniels”) rests above 90% in both the critics’ and audiences’ sections on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s also currently the highest-rated movie of all time on the movie-oriented social media platform Letterboxd, and is already in discussion as one of the best movies of the year. While the film is certainly fun, funny, and engaging, and is almost definitely a step up from the Daniels’ last project “Swiss Army Man,” it’s a highly derivative work that struggles to keep emotional and narrative intimacy within its own bombastic premise.
“Everything Everywhere” stars Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang, a tired, middle-aged woman who owns a laundromat with her husband Waymond, played by “Indiana Jones” child star Ke Huy Quan. Also supporting Yeoh are James Hong as Evelyn’s senile but strict father and Stephanie Hsu as Evelyn’s angsty lesbian daughter, who Evelyn treats with as much disdain as her father did her. When the Wang family is audited by IRS agent Deirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn soon discovers that she can jump into different dimensions, experiencing alternate realities and timelines. Once the exposition is out of the way, Evelyn is tasked with preventing the collapse of the multiverse, forcing her to utilize the skills and knowledge from the infinite versions of herself to fight an evil galactic entity and learn how to love her husband and daughter in the process.
The film’s premise is as ridiculous and ambitious as the title implies, and from a visual and aesthetic standpoint the film executes its ideas to great success. There are some excellently choreographed and edited sequences of hand-to-hand combat, paying clear tribute to the Hong Kong action films of the 1980s and 90s, as well as former Yeoh collaborator Ang Lee. The visual effects, which were apparently assembled by a team of no more than seven people, help the confusing and explosive concepts that the script conjures become concrete and digestible. This is especially seen in the humor of the film, which may have seemed too silly and juvenile on paper but come to belly-laughing fruition when realized through puppetry and CGI — a particular “Ratatouille” reference is an excellent example of when to take a joke “too far.” The cast completes these moments; Yeoh is always a pleasure, Hsu is a revelation and Quan makes a welcome and hilarious return to acting.
When “Everything Everywhere” succeeds, it excels, but there’s almost definitely a few bumps along the way. While the jokes are often hilariously inventive, there are also a fair number of jokes that fall disappointingly flat, too childish to even be saved by the forceful pace at which the story barrels forward. This is made even more apparent by the way the comedic moments leave so little room for the emotional core of the story: Evelyn’s relationship with her family. The film makes some bold claims about life, love and the universe, but it doesn’t expound on them, and they end up feeling like an afterthought. The solidly emotional moments are the ones in which the Daniels wear their influences boldly on their sleeves, drawing directly from the style and imagery of, notably, Wong Kar Wai and the Wachowski sisters, but even these moments feel like cookie-cutter imitation rather than genuinely developed relationships between characters.
The central idea of “Everything Everywhere” is excessively turgid, and the roadblocks that Daniels encountered can be clearly seen in their work, but executing such a nonsensical premise to the level of success that they reached nears what many would call a miracle. This is a film of a new generation made by a new generation; it’s violently unsubtle, bright-eyed and good-hearted, and while it’s sometimes frustratingly boyish and crass, to an extent that weighs down its larger themes, it feels impossible not to love it. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is in theaters right now.